UND freshman walk-on Ethan Igbanugo goes from unknown recruit to Fighting Hawks’ rotation
GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota redshirt freshman Ethan Igbanugo wasn’t a heralded Division I recruit.
Late in his senior season of high school, his former Lakeville North (Minn.) teammate, UND sophomore Carter Brooks, texted Igbanugo that the Fighting Hawks still had a roster spot available.
Brooks told UND assistant coach Steve Grabowski that Igbanugo, who didn’t have many options, was interested and Igbanugo eventually took a recruiting visit and elected to walk-on last season.
That might be a humble college beginning, but the 6-foot-2 shooting guard didn’t come to Grand Forks to sit on the bench.
“My mentality was that I was coming in to play,” Igbanugo said. “I didn’t just come here to practice. I wanted to play. I knew it would take a lot of hard work, and I would have to play really well. I wanted to play as quickly as I could get it done.”
After redshirting last year and only seeing mop-up duty through the first half of the season, Igbanugo has played at least eight minutes in each of the past three games and is being called on in crunch time off the bench.
He’s likely to see the floor again Thursday, Jan. 9, when UND continues Summit League play against Omaha at 7 p.m. at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
Igbanugo has made at least one 3-pointer in each of the past three games. In fact, he started the season hitting the first six 3-pointers of his college career.
“It’s a great story,” UND coach Brian Jones said. “The kid was a late bloomer. It shows if you come every day to work and commit to being better and what we need you to do, good things are going to happen.
“He has great size and strength and can really shoot. We really needed a bigger guard who can defend.”
Jones said although there’s an element of surprise when a walk-on makes an impact as a freshman, he said his teams seem to have a player like that every season.
“Boy, they’re the rock of what you’re trying to do,” Jones said. “I look for him to continue to get better. It shows that you might not get what you want out of high school as an athlete but if you invest in that dream, good things happen.”
Igbanugo’s first real action of the season came against Purdue Fort Wayne on Dec. 29, where he was told a day or two before the game at practice that he’s an option to play in the team’s 14th game of the season.
“Coach Grabowski told me to be ready,” Igbanugo said. “I told him I’ll be ready. I don’t usually get nervous but my first game I was a little nervous.”
Igbanugo said he didn’t get rattled when he was buried on the team’s rotation early in the year.
“As being a competitor, you want to be in there,” he said. “You’re maybe frustrated you’re not getting the minutes you think you might deserve or want. But it’s really about patience and continuing to work hard and focus on what you can do for the team. When I got my opportunity, I tried to make the most of it.”
Igbanugo had five points against Fort Wayne, six against Oral Roberts and three against Denver during his three-game stretch of playing time.
“He’s just a kid who works his butt off every day and never complains about the situation he’s given,” UND guard Billy Brown said. “He works harder than everyone else. He’s a good kid and it’s good to see him get the opportunity.”